Dominick LaRuffa Jr: 5 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me Before I Became an Artist

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It’s wonderful and important to set goals and have high expectations for yourself, but don’t attach those ambitions to your birthday. I had accomplished much to be proud of by my 30th birthday and I genuinely could not see it. I agonized over what little progress I made based solely on imaginary versions of what life was supposed to look like by 30 and I wasted a lot of my 20’s worrying about setting up the decade to come. There is nothing on my life, personal or professional, that is not better in my early 30’s.

As a part of our series about “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became An Artist” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dominick LaRuffa Jr.

Dominick LaRuffa Jr. recently did double-duty while simultaneously starring opposite Laura Shoop in Powerhouse Off-Broadway and producing The Kite Runner on Broadway. Most known for his film & television work, including Paul on the long-running hit CBS/Paramount+ legal drama “Bull,” a recurring role on “Gravesend” (Amazon), Martin Scorsese’s epic The Irishman (Netflix) and a co-starring role in the psychological thriller feature, Abandoned Heights. Dominick is a 6-time Tony award nominated producer and a sought-after acting coach, development consultant and dramaturge. Off-Broadway principal roles include: How Alfio Learned to Love, My Big Gay Italian Midlife Crisis, My Big Gay Italian Wedding, My Big Gay Italian Funeral, among others. As a Broadway producer, his body of work includes All the Way, You Can’t Take It With You, On The Town, Deaf West Theatre’s Revival of Spring Awakening, The Realistic Joneses, China Doll, Six Degrees of Separation, American Son, The Lifespan of a Fact, and Betrayal.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I think most artists lean into there being some sort of “Ah ha!” moment, where an epiphany occurs and they know, this is what they want to do. But the truth is, to really do this (particularly for performing artists), you have to benefit from falling in love with the craft, over and over and over again. Inspiration is everywhere if you look for it — and we need to, because for most of us, you quickly learn there’s a long time between “things happening” and often an even longer time before those things start. That first moment for me, where my story really begins, was in my sophomore year of high school on the drama class trip to see Doubt on Broadway. Growing up in Brooklyn came with a lot of benefits, one of those being easy access to Broadway, and a love for entertainment in general. Back then, particularly as a student, Broadway was affordable for the average person to attend. That particular experience and the performances Cherry Jones and Brian F. O’Byrne were giving at the Walter Kerr Theatre ignited the lightning bolt thunderstorm inside me saying, “This is me!” That was 17 years ago, and I’ll never forget it.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

That’s a tough question. Considering the insanity of my varied experiences thus far, it’s hard to narrow it down. The overall most interesting period of my life as an actor was the day I decided to quit. Granted it was in the middle of the first year of lock down. Like many, my wife and I were either un (or under) employed and living in a nice neighborhood that was quite literally being set on fire. With very few prospects ahead of us, and a baby on the way, deciding to throw in the towel once and for all was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I tried to go to sleep and make peace with it, but the very next day I woke up to an acquaintance asking me for audition coaching — something I hadn’t ever done before. I decided to take the challenge and that one decision changed the whole course of my life and career, because I absolutely fell in love with teaching. That one studen” spawned my whole coaching and consulting business called, Blue Collar Artist Studio. Now I coach actors and playwrights, consult for aspiring producers and long existing institutions all over the country. Once I got over my debilitating case of imposter syndrome/fraud complex, I was able to see that helping others navigate exactly what I am trying to do was the most rewarding way I could spend my time and everything in my life has gotten better since that moment.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I recently finished one of the more remarkable periods of my life playing my first starring role opposite Broadway veteran Laura Shoop in a new play Off-Broadway called Powerhouse while simultaneously co-producing, The Kite Runner on Broadway. Powerhouse was the most challenging, rewarding and motivating experience I’ve ever had as an actor and The Kite Runner might just be the best thing I’ve ever worked on as a producer. For both to happen right on top of each other after a considerable draught, is something I’ve really tried to enjoy in real time, as it’s happening. Next up, is a film called Abandoned Heights that will be my most sizable role to date starring opposite some of the most lauded actors of our time. In this line of work, I’ve learned to effectively manage my expectations, but I secretly have high hopes for impact this film could have.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

I’ve been fortunate to work with some of the greats and my lifelong heroes and most of them haven’t disappointed. I’ve told this story often, but I always think it’s worth sharing. My first Broadway show as the lowest ranking associate producer was with Bryan Cranston, who, at the time had just finished “Breaking Bad.” He was the most famous actor in the world and night after night eight shows a week I watched him take 30–45 minutes to interact with every single person backstage — and not just a wink and a smile, but actual conversations with people on a human level. Generally speaking, savvy veteran actors are nice to most people backstage because they assume you have to be “somebody” in order to be backstage, but the miraculous thing was after he was done backstage (after performing a three-and-a-half-hour show), he would then go outside for an hour and do the same thing with the throngs of fans waiting to meet him at the stage door. I complimented his kindness and then asked him why he takes so much time to engage with people because I’ve been around so many “successful” actors who seemed to climb the ladder quickly without the behaving so nicely. Bryan told me that he learned from watching Tom Hanks when he was lowest actor on the call sheet and Hanks was one of the biggest movie stars in the world. Bryan observed Hanks treating everyone with grace and respect, shaking their hands and looking them in the eyes, asking questions about their family, etc. and so he always tried to bring that into his life as his career and profile grew. I do my best to do the same.

Where do you draw inspiration from? Can you share a story about that?

Most of my life I was told that if I really wanted to “make it” that marriage and kids would need to be something I held off on for as long as possible, maybe ever. I had inner conflict about that for a long time. As trite as this may sound, I know now there is nothing in my life that isn’t better since becoming a husband and in particular, a father. I mentioned earlier about inspiration being everywhere if you’re open to looking and for me personally, that means just simply looking at my daughter. She’s just over a year now and I’m inspired in a way I can’t properly articulate. Inspiration, motivation, purpose, even ego (the good kind that comes from wanting your family to be proud of you) — whenever I’m lacking those things, I spend a few mins watching her play, and I get all I need to move forward another day.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I’m fond of saying success is relative because most of us are forced to gage success by what social media tells us. Social media is something I have a complicated relationship with. I can be self-aware enough to appreciate the irony of hoping this very article trends well for me, but also knowing that there will be someone out there who wishes it were them. It’s really important to me to help dispel the self-doubt and uncertainty that comes with “why not me” syndrome. For every nice article, or job, or working experience where you get paid to do what you love, there’s also considerably more time spent NOT doing it. Most overnight successes occur over a 10–15-year period, so if I can use my relative success for anything it would be to consistently share the idea that it is always harder than it appears and that so many of us are fighting or have fought battles that never get shared. Ultimately, there is no brass ring. There’s no “I made it now” prize. Just love the work. Do the work. Be disciplined with yourself. Be kind when no one is watching. And then keep doing the work. Following this recipe has shown me that the good work, will follow.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

It’s wonderful and important to set goals and have high expectations for yourself, but don’t attach those ambitions to your birthday. I had accomplished much to be proud of by my 30th birthday and I genuinely could not see it. I agonized over what little progress I made based solely on imaginary versions of what life was supposed to look like by 30 and I wasted a lot of my 20’s worrying about setting up the decade to come. There is nothing on my life, personal or professional, that is not better in my early 30’s.

Discipline equals freedom. Learn all the rules inside and out, learn the rules society sets, learn the rules your business sets, learn the rules your family sets, and learn them better than anyone else, so that when you break them, you’re confident and correct to be doing so.

Year over year we are shown that the only form of light worth standing in is the limelight — this is silly. Spotlights are historically used judiciously for a reason. It’s likely the best work you’ll ever do will be alone in the dark.

The most important thing to remember when living as an adult is knowing when to comprise and the most important part of being an adult who lives well, is when to not.

The showbiz life is hard enough, professionally. Don’t let it prevent you from or consume your life, personally. Go out and live. Have friends not in the business. Travel. Work the weird side job. Get married. Have kids. Drink the second Negroni and eat what you want on the weekends.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I think the whole world right now feels like we all are all expected to react to every change crisis and circumstances our devices relentlessly retell us about. This might be too simple, but if I could give the gift of getting everyone to just take a breath, I think we would all be a lot happier. I believe most of us our doing our best, and that we want the best for others too. Most people want the same things, community, friendship, understanding, something to aspire to, to feel like they’re taking care of their families in a healthy happy way. Most importantly, we all want and need, love. Take a breath, love your friends. Take a breath, love your family. Take a breath, love the stranger who appears to be your opposite. Take a breath, love your enemies. Take a breath, love yourself.

We have been blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she just might see this.

How fast can I say, “The Rock” — or as I call him in my head and heart: Dwayne American Treasure Johnson. There is nothing that man doesn’t seem to get right. From family to blockbusters to tequila. I’m a huge believer in artists being multidimensional, multidisciplinary, a confident multi-hyphenate sorta speak. And I think he is currently the greatest multi-hyphenate success on planet Earth.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

You can find me on Instagram and Facebook at @domlaruffajr.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Dominick LaRuffa Jr: 5 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me Before I Became an Artist was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.